Friends float new West End restaurant
Only chef Srinivasan “Srini” Nandagopal knew how to make chicken fried rice the way Mazahim “Maz” Shabdeen liked it — hot and spicy.
For years, Mr Shabdeen ordered the dish from Traditions Restaurant in Sandys every Saturday afternoon on his way to work as a restaurant manager in town.
When he collected his order, he and Mr Nandagopal would chat about life. Mr Nandagopal is from Chennai, India and Mr Shabdeen from Sri Lanka, but they both spoke Tamil.
“We shared a passion for cooking and the restaurant industry,” Mr Shabdeen said. “We both dreamt of opening our own restaurant one day.”
It took six years, but that dream finally came true last Sunday, when the friends opened the Anchor Restaurant, Bar and Lounge in Dockyard, with their wives Natasha Shabdeen and Kayla Srinivasan.
Mr Shabdeen said the project had so far both tested their friendship and made it stronger.
“Sometimes I want to do things one way, and he wants to do it another,” Mr Shabdeen said. “But we always come to a compromise.”
On the first day it poured with rain, only sixty people showed and the computer system crashed in the middle of service. Not that it bothered them too much.
“This is our dream,” Mr Shabdeen said. “There are always going to be glitches on the first day.”
Mr Shabdeen and Ms Srinivasan handle the front of the house, and Mr Nandagopal cooks. They believe in taking a hands-on approach to everything. During eight months of renovations, they often pitched in. Mr Shabdeen is still sporting a blackened fingernail from when a concrete garden slab fell on his thumb while setting up.
They looked at several different locations around the island, but chose Dockyard because they are both Somerset residents.
“Before, whenever we went out for a nice night, we'd always end up going to Southampton or Hamilton,” Mr Shabdeen said. “If you had house guests you'd have to think do I really want to take them all the way to town? And if we have a bottle of wine, are we going to have to order a taxi to drive us all the way back? We wanted to give people in the West End another option.”
So far, 70 per cent of their clients are locals. Many of them comment on how happy they are to have another restaurant near by.
“The couple sitting outside right now, one is from Somerset and one is from Southampton,” Mr Shabdeen said. “Apparently they were at the gas station in Southampton and heard we'd opened a restaurant. They knew us from when we both worked for other restaurants. They came up to see how things were going and to sample the food.”
Before setting up shop, Mrs Shabdeen and Ms Srinivasan surveyed Bermudians to find out what they wanted in a new restaurant. They did this by talking to people in grocery stores, at bus stops and other places.
“People said they wanted local food with local fish,” Mr Shabdeen said.
So that's what Anchor is providing in Bermuda; food such as meatloaf, shark hash and Sunday morning codfish and potatoes. They hope to eventually start up a Sunday brunch.
Mr Shabdeen, 45, first came to Bermuda in 1998.
“At the time, I was working for the Hilton in Dubai when I got a call from a friend in Bermuda, an employee at the Harbourfront Restaurant,” he said.
The friend had recommended Mr Shabdeen for a managerial post at Harbourfront.
Sure enough, Mr Shabdeen got a phone call from MEF Group managing director Emilio Barbieri a short time later saying, simply: “Bermuda, you want to work here? Your friend recommended you.”
“A month later, I was here,” Mr Shabdeen said. “The immigration process then was really fast. I had heard of Bermuda, but never knew it was so beautiful and close to the United States.”
A few years later, he married a Bermudian. Now his stepdaughter, Indiyah Mendes, works at Anchor with him.
Mr Nandagopal, 42, got his start in cooking by helping his family prepare for functions.
“Everyone pitched in,” he said. “In India, weddings can be very big affairs. Sometimes there can be as many as 2,000 people. When I was in school I had a friend who was running a catering business. At 14 or 15 I would often go along and watch him work.
“That's when I really decided I wanted to be a chef. For functions like that, they start preparing two days in advance and it was like a factory. One guy might be tasked with just cutting onions. He might have ten bags to cut up. Another guy will just have potatoes and so on.”
Mr Nandagopal studied hospitality management at university and trained as a chef in five-star hotels. He came to Bermuda 14 years ago when he was invited by a friend at House of India.
After that, he worked for Traditions Restaurant and then The Spot restaurant for the past four.
“The first thing I did when I got here was to try to learn how to cook authentic Bermudian food,” he said. “At Christmas, I would always ask my landlady to show me how to make different desserts. I have collected recipes for different things such as macaroni and fish chowder from different people.”
He said one of the challenges of bringing those recipes to Anchor has been figuring out which recipes to use.
“I have at least ten for macaroni alone,” he said. “And everyone has a different fish chowder recipe that they prefer. Some things don't work in a restaurant setting. You might use three cheeses at home and heavy cream, but that doesn't work in a commercial setting, so we have to substitute, by using milk, for example.”
He said shark hash was challenging because it “stinks up the place”.
“You either have to make it at home and bring it in or make it when the restaurant is closed,” he said.
One of the reasons he wanted to start a restaurant was to spend more time with his wife and nine-year-old son.
“Kayla used to work as a waitress,” he said. “We thought we'd make a very good team in the restaurant industry.”
When asked what they do when they're not working, they look confused.
“We're always working,” laughed Mr Nandagopal.
“I work long hours,” Mr Shabdeen said. “I used to work from 5.30am to 1am.
“If you don't like something, it might be a stress, but if you love it, it is a passion.”
Mr Shabdeen said he once tried an 8am to 5pm job. He was a manager for Oleander Cycles.
“That lasted two weeks,” he said. “I came home grumpy. My wife said I needed something else to do.”
After that period, he started taking on other work at Blu Restaurant and The Deep nightclub in his evening hours.
But Anchor is giving him plenty to do.
“I love being at the front and greeting people,” he said. “I love meeting people from different countries and cultures. We're off to a good start, but this is only the beginning for us. We have a lot further to go, but we're loving being our own bosses.”